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Stories

HEP Hero Rhonda McCaw

February 1, 2019

Rhonda McCaw

Researcher and Advocate

I worked at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, initially situated at Fairfield Hospital, as a research and diagnostic scientist in the Molecular Microbiology Unit in the field of hepatitis C .

I worked in this capacity for 16 years from 1992, retiring in 2008.  Head of the Unit, Dr. Scott Bowden (now Professor Scott Bowden) established in-house hepatitis C virus (HCV) RT-PCR testing in 1991; performed the first hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HCV genotyping in Australia; established HBV PCR testing in 1992; and established the first Australian Quality Assurance panel for HCV RNA testing and for HCV genotyping.

Our group did the first epidemiological study of HCV genotype distribution in Australia. At that time a person’s HCV genotype was extremely important in the prediction of the success or otherwise of the available treatment.

In December 1993 the hepatitis C Support Group was set up in an office at Fairfield Hospital and we were often being asked by them about the hepatitis C virus, transmission and treatment issues and interpretation of test results.

I became more closely involved as scientist representative on the Hepatitis C Council for 10 years where I wrote many scientific articles for their newsletter, the Good Liver.  During this time I developed a greater understanding of the impact of the disease on those infected with HCV and met many amazing people who dedicated their time and energy for the cause.

In 1994 I co-wrote, with Professor Bowden, an Information Booklet on hepatitis C for distribution to all General Practitioners in Victoria, sponsored by Fairfield Hospital. The booklet was also distributed as part of Information Packs to relevant organisations.

We were motivated to do so by the many examples of misinformation about hepatitis C, especially around transmission issues, in the community and also amongst the medical profession. This misinformation was leading to much anxiety and discrimination for hepatitis C infected people.

Rhonda’s message to others…

I am so proud of the support that is around now for the Hepatitis C infected community through the wonderful organisation Hepatitis Victoria. It is also a great development that it is now an advocate for those infected with all types of hepatitis viruses.

Finally, it is wonderful to see the development of extremely effective treatments that are now available for those infected with Hepatitis C, something that we could not have imagined back in the early 1990s.

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